Reigning rookie of the year and mercurial point guard, Ja Morant is heading into his sophomore season flying somewhat under the radar. Despite his obvious talent, he is somewhat overlooked in favor of the unicorn that is Zion Williamson.
The 21 year-old star is already the best player on a young Grizzlies team that will likely build around him as he grows into his game. Even prior to being drafted, the obvious and repeated comparison that Morant garnered was to Russell Westbrook.
This comparison is not without merit, both are listed at 6’3” with a propensity for driving to the lane, and both are highly athletic. Both in terms of verticality and first step explosiveness.
Where they do diverge however, is that Morant figures to be a better shooter. Despite getting attention for his high-flying dunks, Morant has a wide variety of moves in his lay-up package. Allowing him to finish around the rim effectively, and with either hand.
Rather than relying strictly on his rapid first step, Morant employs an array of feints and hesitation moves to keep his defender on skates and picking his route to the basket as he sees fit.
Defensively, Morant is neither especially gifted nor a liability. He has the length and reflexes to be disruptive but lacks the defensive IQ to be an outstanding team defender. His athletic gifts will always give him an edge when he is locked in, however.
While Morant is certainly not a pass first/pure point guard, his court vision is well above average. With his ability to draw defenses in [due to his scoring acumen], Morant creates openings for his teammates merely by virtue of being aggressive himself.
The fact that he is an excellent and willing partner, forces defenses to respect his entire game. It is not prudent to sag off of Morant, while playing him too closely his obviously a problem.
With the Memphis Grizzlies, obviously still with much work ahead of them to construct a truly competitive roster, projecting Morant’s career arc presents some challenges. It is clear that he will be an All-Star level talent, regardless of where he plays.
Can Morant be a superstar? The best player on a championship team. To the former question, the answer is almost certainly yes. As far as the latter, probably not.
This speaks more to the difficulty of being a point guard in the NBA than it does of Morant’s abilities and potential. The point god himself, Chris Paul, has never made an NBA Finals. In fact, the most obvious exception to the rule – Stephen Curry and Magic Johnson – are extreme outliers.
Stephen Curry being the consensus greatest shooter in NBA history and Magic Johnson being a gigantic point guard with passing skills and court-vision that has not been seen since.
Ja Morant can easily be the second best player on a championship contending team, however. While it is difficult to imagine a scenario where Memphis becomes a championship contender while Morant is still on his rookie contract, it is not completely without question.
Morant’s career may ultimately be defined by where he ends up, who he plays with and how many championships he does or does not win, but he will almost certainly be great.